New generation of locusts may attack crops in UP after monsoon
Experts have warned that a new generation of locust swarms may attack crops in Uttar Pradesh (UP) and Rajasthan after the monsoon retreats even as the toxic insecticides sprayed to kill them might have caused adverse environmental and health consequences.
They have cautioned that a new generation of locust swarms might come out of eggs laid by the desert pests and these could attack the crops after the monsoon.
In India, locusts have a single breeding season that spans between July and October.
While the insect’s life cycle has three distinct stages— egg, hopper and adult.
“At present, there is no information about any locust swarms in UP. But it is possible that female locusts, during their stay in UP or Rajasthan, had laid eggs and a new generation of the insects may create a fresh menace,” said CP Srivastava, deputy director, agriculture, Lucknow.
Locust swarms had invaded UP in end-April.
Initially, the insects had invaded Bundelkhand and kept on hovering from one district to another until the last week of July. Though locusts invade Rajasthan every year from neighbouring Pakistan, UP had to contend with their attack for the first time in the past three decades or so.
As per a recent report sent by the state agriculture department to the Centre, the locust swarms attacked 61 of the 75 districts in UP between April and May and later again in July.
“The locust swarms did night stay in 42 districts. While the insects only flew from one place to another without night stay in another 19 districts,” the report stated.
The UP government had to deploy 127 officers, 325 staff, 217 fire brigade personnel, 224 tractor-mounted sprayers, the Central government’s three mobile vans and as many drones in spraying insecticides to either kill or chase away the invading insects.
The report stated that no significant crop damage had occurred in any district because of the locust swarms’ invasion. The report revealed that 5,702 litres of chemicals were sprayed over an area of 7,021 hectares (ha) to kill the locust swarms in 42 districts, where they had stayed at night. The state authorities used three drones to spray pesticides in Agra, Farrukhabad, Pilibhit, Bareilly and Rampur districts.
Sources said the Centre had asked the UP government to specify whether the spray of chemicals for locust control had led to any adverse environmental and health impacts.
“We told the Centre that no immediate harmful effects were noticed. However, it may take a while for the harmful consequences, if any, to come to the fore,” a source said.
The pesticides that were spread to control the spread of locust swarms mainly consisted of chlorpyrifos and lambda-cyhalothrin, the chemicals that are considered as harmful for humans due to their acute toxic content.
“The chemicals used to eliminate locust swarms pose a risk to humans and terrestrial non-target fauna aquatic ecosystems,” sources said.
KC Khulbe, a scientist at the Indian Institute of Toxicology Research in Lucknow, said insecticide sprays are harmful for both environment and humans.
“But much depends on the amount of spray, area covered, nature of chemicals used, exposure duration and safety precautions taken,” he said.
“However, we have done no research with regard to locust control,” he added.
A state agriculture official said the use of chemical sprays to control locust swarms could have adverse effects. However, he still justified their use.
“Spraying the chemical was essential. Else, the locust swarms could have caused a bigger harm,” he added.
Desert locust the deadliest pest
According to the Jodhpur-based Locust Warning Organisation (LWO), desert locust, migratory locust, Bombay locust and tree locust are found in India.
The desert locust is the most important pest species in the country and also in the intercontinental context.
Historically, the desert locust, according to the LWO, has always been a major threat to humans.
The desert locust is mentioned as a curse to mankind in ancient texts such as the Old Testament of the Bible and the Holy Quran.
The magnitude of the damage and loss caused by the locusts is beyond imagination. The locusts have caused starvation due to the insects being polyphagous.
On average, small locust swarms can eat as much food in one day as about 10 elephants, 25 camels or 2,500 humans.
Locusts cause damage by devouring leaves, flowers, fruits, seeds, bark and also by breaking down trees because of their weight when they settle down in masses.